Wednesday, June 16, 2010

High School Graduation: A Parent's Primer?

Depending upon your child's status - only child or youngest - it is here, graduation, the last high school event you will attend as a spectator. Your grad-to-be is a whirlwind of conflicting emotions: excited, happy, melancholic, confident, nervous, wary, maybe even a bit incredulous that the day is finally here; you of course, are containing those same feelings.

As soon as the first five or six notes of "Pomp and Circumstance" are played, you will either be swallowing a lump as big as a baseball, or you will be full on leaking tears, perhaps a fist pressed against your mouth, or dabbing a tissue about your eyes either frantically or with discretion, as you crane your neck or strain forward seeking to spot your grad walking jauntily into the stadium or auditorium.

The name for the song (actually entitled "Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches") was taken from Act III of Shakespeare's "Othello:"
"Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th'ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner and all quality
Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war!"

It may not be a total stretch to think of high school, of those teenage years from 14 to 18, as a sort of war, a war of words, of will and of wisdom. And not just between parent and child, but also between student and teacher, student and student, maybe even student and themselves.

As you sit there at the ceremony, filled with pride and awe, you might also be fast-forwarding a month, six, or eight weeks ahead to when your high school grad becomes a college freshman and you will have to face the empty, half empty, maybe a quarter empty, nest. My two oldest graduated from New Canaan High in 2001 and 2003, and so I have had a my nest emptied piecemeal; my daughter will graduate next June, and my baby will christen my nest officially empty in 2014.

Some words of advice are in order. Number 1: Seek out other moms and dads who are in the same newly rocked boat, as well as those whose children - as well as themselves - have gone before you. Support is always a good thing. Number 2: Do not turn your child's bedroom into a guest room, office or home gym. Not yet. For the next two or four years, they will still be coming home for holidays and the summer and do not need to feel as if you have discarded them, not to mention all of their stuff, their memories, their childhood. And one last recommendation: If they don't declare a major right away, or if they change from one to another, do not push them, and do not panic. All children - whether they are five or 25 - need to find their own way, feel it out. They felt enough parental and societal pressure pre-graduation. Ease up and allow them to flap their wings.

A lot of seniors may have known as freshman where they wanted to attend college, and perhaps a majority saw that goal come to fruition. Conversely, there are those who will make do with a second or third choice for the time being; or maybe they will grow to love where the fates led them. A few of you will have graduates who will be taking a 'gap" year before college, and there will be those who intend to pursue something else altogether; no matter what your child chose to do, you should be as proud of the daughter who wants to work with gardens and ivy as the son who studies at an ivy covered campus.

My oldest chose not to enter college before the military. This was not a popular, nor understood by the majority, choice at all. But I felt so fortunate that I had a child who knew - and who had known - exactly what he wanted to do with his life, even, as I said, it was an unusual, hardly traditional for our area, decision. Maybe your child has selected the road less traveled, too. Be happy.

Be happy all of you, for although we may think of the words "graduation" and "commencement" and envision an end, the meaning of the word "commencement" is: "an act or instance of commencing; beginning."

May your child's beginning be a wonder.

1 comment:

Tim Shey said...

Julie: Thanks again for the ride from Kinnear to Jackson, Wyoming earlier today. I enjoyed talking with you. I left a short message on your son, Ken's, blog. Take care.